Perils of investigative reporting show no signs of improving in Montenegro

Expression

On 4th January, Montenegrin authorities released investigative reporter Jovo Martinović ahead of his trial on 19th January. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, Martinović's year-long detention under allegations of drug trafficking had been widely decried by international and domestic civic groups. Despite his recent release, if convicted, Martinović could face up to 10 years in prison.  

Other investigative reporters in Montenegro also face serious threats as a result of their work, with numerous reports drawing attention to a culture of impunity for crimes against journalists. During December, Montenegrin authorities came under attack for withdrawing round-the-clock security for Tufik Softic, an investigative reporter who has been in police protection for over two years. Softic gained prominence for his work exposing organised crime in Northern Montenegro and for being brutally assaulted by unknown assailants in 2007. Questions have arisen over the lack of an explanation from the authorities for withdrawing protection from the embattled journalist, leading many to fear that he is still in danger. 

The sudden cancellation of the recruitment of a new chief of Montenegrin public broadcaster RTCG has been viewed by some as the result of collusion between political and media elites. Some journalists claim that the ruling party are using cronyism to regain influence over the public broadcaster. Marko Milacic, one of the rejected candidates who filed a complaint said in a recent interview: 

'It is an illegal decision, which aims to push an eligible candidate and extend political influence; it's the personal stubbornness of the director, Rade Vojvodic, and nepotism'

The politically-motivated changing of terms of reference for the position has been viewed as a worrying sign that the new government is attempting to co-opt independent media outlets. In this context, on 7th November, Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director of Center for Civic Education (CGO), also drew attention to the increasing prevalence of self-censorship as a result of government coercion. Uljarevic drew attention in particular to funding of the media and the manipulative use of public funds to starve critical outlets of financial resources and distort the media market. 


CGO also recently made proposals to the Government demanding more accountability for issues relating to public information. The CSO has asked that public documents are not anonymised but instead released with the name and details of the supervising civil servant responsible for the documents. CGO claim that this will enable complaints to be directed more effectively as well ensuring that authorities are unable to obfuscate controversial decisions.

Examples of hate speech against excluded and minority groups have also been recorded lately. For instance, reports emerged that a student representative of Niksic City called for violence against members of the LGBTI community during Podgorica's 4th Pride Parade. 

Peaceful Assembly

A number of protests have recently taken place in Montenegro over a variety of issues. There are no reports of any protest turning violent or unnecessary interference from authorities during these mobilisations:

  • Dozens of people marched in Podgorica in the fourth Montenegro Pride parade, urging families to show support for their LGBT relatives;
  • Buyers of apartments in Bar protested against real estate fraud;
  • Hundreds of people protested in front of the United Nations Office in Podgorica, seeking to urgently stop the killings of civilians and the war in Syria; 
  • Following a recent car accident at a pedestrian crossing in Podgorica, citizens held a protest demanding legislative changes and that the state and the police urgently bring order to the roads;
  • Mothers from Rožaj City protested against a proposed 25% cut in compensation for having more than 3 children;
  • Former workers of Alumina Plant in Podgorica protested demanding realisation of their rights. 
  • Montenegro's strongest opposition alliance, the Democratic Front, announced new street protests aimed at forcing out the ruling party, whereas the labor party announced a protest for December 27th against the ‘arrogant and ruthless levies on households’ and budgets of the poorest citizens.